CHICAGO – Ohio State, put down your pencils.
After falling, 77-70, to Michigan State on Friday afternoon, the Buckeyes’ NCAA tournament resume is complete. All they can do now is wait.
But in the 48-hour period between the team’s run in the Big Ten tournament concluding and the selection show airing on Sunday night, Ohio State believes it can sleep soundly. Chris Holtmann, for one, said he feels “good” about the team’s odds of earning an at-large bid.
“Who knows what can happen, but I feel like our body of work has positioned us very, very well,” Holtmann said.
The Buckeyes have remained on the bubble for well over a month, and they’ll finally learn their fate on Sunday.
“I feel confident,” Holtmann said. “But I think you're always a little … You're excited, for one, excited and anxious for Sunday and for what that show's going to be. Like I said, I feel good about our body of work.”
Holtmann has reason to feel assured.
The vast majority of projections have his team earning an at-large bid, and most haven’t displayed much concern about Ohio State, even after its loss to Michigan State. Both ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and The Athletic’s Brian Bennett listed the Buckeyes as a No. 11 seed entering Friday, avoiding the “First Four” play-in games that take place on Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton.
Ohio State’s loss to the Spartans didn’t do anything to boost its resume, but it also didn’t do notable damage – the Buckeyes were double-digit underdogs and lost by just seven points. The team held steady with the season-ending defeat.
“(Holtmann’s) got a young team,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Even though their guy wasn't hurt, he was out for three games. (Kaleb) Wesson's a hell of a player, but I think some of those freshmen are improving. They're definitely going to be a tournament team that I think brings something to the table. With Wesson in there, that can help.”
For as long as Ohio State has remained on the tournament bubble, spanning months, Holtmann has reiterated that NCAA tournament discussion doesn’t happen within the walls of the home locker room at the Schottenstein Center very often. Coaches don’t bring up the bracket projections with players because, as Holtmann has said, they don’t see many positives in doing so.
But the players see the ongoing discussions about tournament positioning. So even though neither Holtmann nor the players outright stated the importance of the team’s game against Indiana on Thursday, they knew many were calling it a de-facto play-in game.
“We put ourselves in a great position with the win yesterday, but we've just got to see,” Keyshawn Woods said. “We did the body of work. We're just going to wait and see Sunday.”
Kaleb Wesson said he feels “pretty confident” about the Buckeyes earning a bid.
“We're just going to let our body of work speak for itself,” he said. “We've been playing well all year. If the committee puts us in, they do, if they don't, they don't. We're going to go out there and give our best wherever we play.”
Last year, the team watched the selection show as a group at the Schottenstein Center, which could happen again – Holtmann said, “We just lost. I'm not being sarcastic. I haven't thought that far ahead” – but has not been finalized.
Wherever the team watches the show, four freshmen – Luther Muhammad, Duane Washington Jr., Justin Ahrens and Jaedon LeDee – will go through the process for the first time.
“I'm a freshman, so it's my first year in college, first year going through this,” Muhammad said. “This is just, we've got to wait and see. I felt like we've played good, had a pretty good year, so it's up to the committee to be honest.”
Ohio State will travel home Friday, then have a full day by themselves before learning of whether or not it earned a bid on Sunday.
How will the players use the time?
Wesson: “Work out. That's all you can do is work.”
Woods: “Tomorrow I'm going to rest. After that, I'm getting back in the gym.”
Regardless of whether the Buckeyes make the NCAA tournament as expected or don’t, postseason basketball will be played, so Holtmann wants the banged-up team to get some rest.
“These guys, they need a day off right now, tomorrow,” Holtmann said. “That's important for them.”